Hypertension is currently one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States. Hypertension, or in simpler terms, high blood pressure, is also one of the leading causes of death in the nation. Referred to as “The Silent Killer,” hypertension’s effects are dangerous due to their undetectable side effects and insidious progress. Luckily, many of the symptoms of hypertension are both preventable, and even reversible, by modifying our lifestyle.
Hypertension In A Nutshell
To understand Hypertension, we should take a step back and understand the basic anatomy of the cardiovascular system. It all begins and ends with the Heart.
The Heart is a pump. It relaxes and fills with blood, then squeezes and pushes blood throughout our bodies in Arteries. Arteries are pipes, carrying blood all over our body to our organs, fingers, toes, brain, and every muscle along the way. Once blood reaches its destination, it returns back to the heart through our Veins, some of which we can see through the skin on our arms and legs.
Even though Hypertension specifically affects Arteries, understanding how circulation works is important since the negative effects of Hypertension extend throughout the cardiovascular system and thus, the entire body.
So exactly, what is hypertension? Hypertension is commonly known as high blood pressure, and for good reason, because this is exactly what it is. If we said earlier that Arteries are pipes, Hypertension is when the pipes are too narrow.
Imagine cars driving down a wide four-lane highway. Now imagine the same number of cars driving down a narrow two-lane highway. Change cars to blood, and highway to Arteries, and you have a perfect picture of hypertension; too much blood in too tight of a pipe.
Medically speaking, the definition of hypertension is having sustained blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher. While this definition of hypertension may seem simple, it is worth breaking down what “140/90 mmHg” really means:
- First, let’s look at mmHg (said aloud as, millimeters of mercury); this is the unit of measurement we use for pressure. Just like pounds are for weight, miles per hour are for speed, millimeters of mercury are for blood pressure.
- Second, and more importantly, the numerator in the equation (140) refers to what we call the systolic blood pressure. Thinking back to our Heart as a pump, systolic is the medical way of saying the squeezing heart.
- Third, the denominator in the equation (90), refers to what we call the diastolic blood pressure, diastolic is the medical way of saying the relaxing heart.
Putting all of this together, 140/90 mmHg means this: the pressure against the inside of our Artery wall is 140 mmHg when the Heart is squeezing, and 90 mmHg when the Heart is relaxing.
The “ideal” blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, which leads us to our next question, how did our blood pressure get this high in the first place? And why do we have a two-lane highway instead of a four-lane highway?
What Causes Hypertension?
95% of Hypertension is known as Primary Hypertension.
Primary Hypertension means that the high blood pressure we experience is not the result of a different problem in the body, but is the first problem that goes on to create other more serious problems.
Unfortunately, why we get Hypertension is not completely understood, and what we do understand is very complex. What we do know is that certain “risk factors” make getting Hypertension more likely. Some of these risk factors are in our control and some are not. Certain risk factors like genetics and age are things we cannot change, but increasing our physical activity, quitting smoking, and consuming foods lower in sodium are things that we can change. The latter have all been proven to reverse Hypertension and lower blood pressure to healthier and safer levels.
The current American lifestyle is very conducive to developing hypertension. Chronic periods of inactivity (sitting at work all day long), paired with excess consumption of highly processed, salty foods, fuel the proverbial fire for hypertension.
This reason, along with many others, is one of the contributing factors to why over 75 million American adults are living with hypertension (22). That’s approximately 29% of the population; almost 1 out of every 3!
What Are The Risks Of Hypertension?
While we may not have a perfect understanding of how hypertension begins, the scientific and medical communities do know what happens once it starts.
Unfortunately, Hypertension makes itself worse when not treated. The high blood pressure in our Arteries causes them to thicken to resist the higher pressure. Thicker Arteries means that our two-lane highway just got even narrower, and narrower highways result in a higher risk of accidents.
A car accident in our Arteries is called a blood clot.
Whereas cars in this example represent blood as a whole, consider larger vehicles such as trucks to be carriers within the blood, which transport essential nutrients such as oxygen molecules to various destinations.
When a car accident in our Arteries occurs, this prevents these “trucks” from being able to transport their cargo (things like nutrients and oxygen). Essentially when arteries are unable to transport these nutrients, they can result in serious conditions in the brain and heart.
Unfortunately, blood clots can lead to two things we are very familiar with; a blood clot in our Brain can lead to a Stroke, and a blood clot in our Heart can lead to a Heart Attack.
We all have loved ones who have been affected by these terrible and life-threatening diseases caused by Hypertension.
In fact, Heart Attacks and Stroke are the #1 and #5 causes of death in the United States, respectively (11). If we survive, Strokes can leave us disabled, unable to speak, walk, or remember and Heart Attacks can leave us fatigued, short of breath, and confused.
Aside from the disabling effects of blood clots, Hypertension can cause serious damage to our bodies because of reduced blood flow. Decreased blood flow in our eyes can lead to swelling, blurry vision, and blindness. Lack of blood flow reduces the strength and duration of an erection in men, and the desire, arousal, and lubrication in women.
Finally, Hypertension can injure our Kidneys, leading to swelling in our legs and chemical imbalances in our blood.
The risks of hypertension can be very serious. If not handled when recognized, further complications can arise over time. This is why, when recognized, you should see your doctor if you continually notice an increase in your blood pressure.
Common Treatments For Hypertension
The best solution in battling hypertension is to work with your Medical Doctor to establish a personal treatment plan that includes whatever medications you agree on with your Doctor, in addition to creating a custom exercise and nutrition plan that is designed to lower your blood pressure.
There are limited negative side effects to modifying your lifestyle in order to lower your blood pressure. Small changes like beginning an exercise routine and cutting back on foods that are high in sodium will have a large impact on naturally reducing hypertension. As you and your doctor start to see results from lifestyle changes, the need for medications can often times be stopped or reduced. If you are looking for an exercise routine that can naturally lower your blood pressure, download my Hypertension Handbook for FREE today! Click Here.
Fortunately, Medical Doctors have a number of medications that are helpful in the treatment of Hypertension. While modern medicine can help prevent and even treat Hypertension, most of these medications simply treat the issues rather than fixing the cause. Not to mention, many of these medications can result in serious side effects, creating new issues of their own.
While the below information should not be taken as medical advice, it’s important to understand the effects that common hypertension medications can have on the body.
Diuretics help by reducing the volume of blood in your body, and less volume means less pressure. Referring to our highway analogy, this means we have fewer cars on the road. The majority of diuretics work by blocking the reuptake of sodium in the kidney. Water follows sodium and is therefore urinated. Obviously, excessive urination means running to the bathroom every few hours (and that’s no fun!). Diuretics, however, can lead to issues such as dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Because of this, diuretic use should be closely monitored.
A few common examples of Diuretics are found under the prescription name Lasix, Bumex, Spironolactone, and Hydrochlorothiazide.
Beta Blockers treat hypertension by reducing the intensity of which our heart “squeezes,” or in other words, our systolic blood pressure. Beta Blockers are some of the best medications available today, and have been shown to save lives in those living with Hypertension. Even better, the side effects are small, but they can include fatigue, and erectile dysfunction in men.
Unfortunately, Beta Blockers are contraindicated with other conditions, such as Asthma, of which roughly 25 million Americans suffer from (17). Since Beta Blockers affect our Heart Rate, it is important to understand that if you are making adjustments based on heart rate, you must take a custom approach. Click here to learn more about custom exercise programming based on Heart Rate.
Commonly used Beta Blockers have names like Coreg, Brevibloc, Inderal, Lopressor, and Toprol.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium Channel Blockers (CCB) work by relaxing our Arteries by preventing calcium from entering the cells of the heart and blood vessel walls. This results in vasodilation, or widening our highway from two-lanes back to four-lanes. Calcium Channel blockers are also great medicines our Medical Doctors can provide, but they do have side effects like headache, constipation, and swelling in the legs.
Examples of CCB are commonly prescribed under prescription names like Norvasc, Cardizem, Felodipine, and many medications with the suffix “dipine.”
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
ACE inhibitors stop the production of a hormone called angiotensin II, which relaxes our Arteries. They also decrease the amount of sodium in our blood (which can also be done by lowering the amount of salt in our diet). Though ACE inhibitors have been prescribed for over 35 years, they can have side effects including chronic cough and chemical imbalances. ACE inhibitors are especially useful for those living with Type 2 Diabetes because they protect our Kidneys, but they make it dangerous for us who use common pain medications like Motrin, Ibuprofen, or Aleve.
ACE inhibitors go by names like Prinivil, Zestril, Vasotec, Benzepril, and are often recognized by medications with the suffix of “pril.”
Ultimately, the best approach to Hypertension is to work with your Medical Doctor to get the medication that best works with your individual situation. But you can’t stop there! A natural and long-term approach must be taken to control hypertension. By completing workouts to naturally lower your blood pressure, we can reduce and even eliminate the need for medication, and live our lives healthier, happier, and free from Hypertension.
*The information on this website is for entertainment purposes only and should not be seen as a substitute for working with a qualified professional. You must consult with a medical / fitness professional before starting any new exercise / nutrition program. Results may vary depending on the individual, hard work and consistency is required.
- Anderson, J. W., Liu, C., & Kryscio, R. J. (2008). Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis. American journal of hypertension, 21(3), 310-316.
- Campbell, F., Dickinson, H. O., Critchley, J. A., Ford, G. A., & Bradburn, M. (2013). A systematic review of fish-oil supplements for the prevention and treatment of hypertension. European journal of preventive cardiology, 20(1), 107-120.
- Claudia Siegel, M. P. A., Michael Rakotz, M. D., Peter Basch, M. D., Janet Wright, M. D., Betty Wong, D., & Phoebe Thorpe, M. D. CDC Grand Rounds: A Public Health Approach to Detect and Control Hypertension.
- Cornelissen, V. A., Fagard, R. H., Coeckelberghs, E., & Vanhees, L. (2011). Impact of resistance training on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Hypertension, HYPERTENSIONAHA-111.
- Grassi, D., Desideri, G., Necozione, S., Lippi, C., Casale, R., Properzi, G., … & Ferri, C. (2008). Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1671-1676.
- Grossman, E., Grossman, A., Schein, M. H., Zimlichman, R., & Gavish, B. (2001). Breathing-control lowers blood pressure. Journal of human hypertension, 15(4), 263.
- Jee, S. H., He, J., Whelton, P. K., Suh, I., & Klag, M. J. (1999). The effect of chronic coffee drinking on blood pressure. Hypertension, 33(2), 647-652.
- Karppanen, H., & Mervaala, E. (2006). Sodium intake and hypertension. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 49(2), 59-75.
- Kelley, G. A., & Kelley, K. S. (2000). Progressive resistance exercise and resting blood pressure. Hypertension, 35(3), 838-843.
- Krebs, J. D., Browning, L. M., McLean, N. K., Rothwell, J. L., Mishra, G. D., Moore, C. S., & Jebb, S. A. (2006). Additive benefits of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and weight-loss in the management of cardiovascular disease risk in overweight hyperinsulinaemic women. International journal of obesity, 30(10), 1535.
- National Center for Health Statistics. (2017, March 17). Retrieved September 12, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
- Pescatello, L. S., Franklin, B. A., Fagard, R., Farquhar, W. B., Kelley, G. A., & Ray, C. A. (2004). Exercise and hypertension. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), 533-553.
- Nurminen, M. L., Niittynen, L., Korpela, R., & Vapaatalo, H. (1999). Coffee, caffeine and blood pressure: a critical review. European journal of clinical nutrition, 53(11), 831-839.
- Ramel, A., Martinez, J. A., Kiely, M., Bandarra, N. M., & Thorsdottir, I. (2010). Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction. Nutrition, 26(2), 168-174.
- Stamler, J., G. Rose, R. Stamler, P. Elliott, A. Dyer, and M. Marmot. Intersalt study findings: public health and medical care implications. Hypertens. 14: 570–577, 1989.
- Tochikubo, O., Ikeda, A., Miyajima, E., & Ishii, M. (1996). Effects of insufficient sleep on blood pressure monitored by a new multibiomedical recorder. Hypertension, 27(6), 1318-1324.
- Vital Signs. (2011, May 03). Retrieved September 12, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/asthma/index.html
- Wedick, N. M., Brennan, A. M., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., Mantzoros, C. S., & van Dam, R. M. (2011). Effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on biological risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition journal, 10(1), 93.
- Whelton, P. K., J. He, L. J. Appel, et al. Primary prevention of hypertension: clinical and public health advisory from The National High Blood Pressure Education Program. JAMA 288: 1882–1888, 2002.
- Whelton, S. P., Chin, A., Xin, X., & He, J. (2002). Effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressurea meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Annals of internal medicine, 136(7), 493-503.
- Xin, X., He, J., Frontini, M. G., Ogden, L. G., Motsamai, O. I., & Whelton, P. K. (2001). Effects of alcohol reduction on blood pressure. Hypertension, 38(5), 1112-1117.
- Merai, R. (2016). CDC grand rounds: a public health approach to detect and control hypertension. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 65.